By Fr. Glenn Jones:
I do hope you had a good and blessed Christmas, dear reader. Another tough year gone by with this COVID still raging, and thoughts and prayers go out especially to those families missing friends and family from their tables and hearths this year. We in the Catholic Church of northeastern New Mexico lost many ministers, brothers and sisters—our faith family—with COVID even if some may not have been due to COVID. May God grant us the blessing of a universal morally-acceptable-to-all COVID vaccine this year. I hear the Army may have one in the works (LINK); let’s pray for its successful trials and implementation.
Some persons tend to cite the survival rate of those infected with COVID, but that statistic is little comfort to families of the over 800,000 who have died in the U.S. from it—equivalent to almost 40% of the New Mexico’s population. While many find them odious, it only benefits to try to observe good pathogen infection prevention protocols, even if they can be irksome. Perhaps in doing so we can prevent a few tears for next year’s Christmas season.
Observing even small precautions reminds us of a popular homiletic story about a man walking along a beach lamenting hundreds of starfish stranded upon the shore in the aftermath of a storm. He sees a young boy running back and forth to the water, placing one starfish after another back into the sea. The man scoffs: “Boy, you can’t save all of these starfish!” The boy simply replies, “No; but for every one I save, I make all the difference in the world.”
Likewise, every tear we keep from falling is a victory for charity. That’s how charity works—one small contribution or act or kindness after another. We’re hardly going to save the world and cure cancer in our own personal daily actions, but if we can simply make another’s life better, is that not essential to love of neighbor? With our every act of kindness, who knows the starfish we might save.
Now, an attitude prevalent in our day in democratic societies is: “Nobody is going to tell ME what to do!” We see this in physical violence manifested in various news stories after requests to take protective measures—measures emplaced to benefit everyone. After all, are such small measures really such a burden? Would not observing them while in someone else’s property or house—even if you think them unnecessary—be a simple courtesy or act of graciousness? Unfortunately, there is a lot such resistance even in churches when congregants refuse to follow even the least inconvenient requests and minor measures. Where is the charity in that?
We often forget charity of simply easing the fears or concerns of others. In a rarely-focused-upon story in the Gospels, Jesus—after stating that He and Peter should be exempt from the temple tax—nonetheless instructs Peter: “However, not to give offense to them…give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:27) So, even to not offend when so possible is an act of charity and kindness, putting others at ease. Now, these days “offense” can be taken to extremes, and sometimes the greater act of charity may be to NOT acquiesce to faux, feigned or over-sensitivity, or if someone claims offense over something that is good. But when the request is reasonable—especially concerning fear for life preventing serious illness—WE are only reasonable when trying to observe it.
Such kindness may entail suppressing our own preferences. But such a call to “go beyond” is very much highlighted in this time of year with the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth—He who went “beyond” in highest measure, called the world to do likewise, and provided example with His very life. He was, we Christians believe, God incarnate, deigning to be born and share human existence in the flesh, culminating in a horribly gruesome (bodily) death for the eternal benefit of all humanity. However, leading up to that climax was His teaching all who would hear to love of God and neighbor—to live lives of goodness, righteousness, mercy, forgiveness, and love of fellow man, which necessarily entails some sacrifice. Such are the highest earthly attainments for not only each person, but for each community and of all society.
Are such virtues not what we try to practice within our own families? We tend to focus on “blood”—those with whom we are linked by common ancestry or marriage. The Christian, however, should not think this way, at least not exclusively. Rather, he should remember God as the single source of all creation, and thus of humanity, emphasized in the episode with Jesus: “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
“But what about those who aren’t Christian?”, one might ask. A very similar question was put to Jesus: “And who IS my neighbor?” But we remember Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) who, though Samaritans were traditionally despised by the Jews, helped a Jew who was in great distress though even two of the Jew’s countrymen and ministers would not. Jesus ends that beautiful story with: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” [His interlocutor] said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)
We should see one another as brother and sister, not as “us” and “them”, and thus seek to aid them as much as we can. As we witness, such an attitude can seem uncommon in the increasing incivility and selfishness in our day. But each person who courageously and unwaveringly seeks to practice justice and righteousness, mercy and kindness, graciousness and thoughtfulness toward all others as we go “out with the old, in with the new” in the upcoming change of the year will truly be extraordinary—if not in the eyes of people, certainly in the eyes of God.
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.